Sunday, February 21, 2010

George McCready Price

The influential thinking of George McCready Price (1870-1963) is worthy of our careful study. Consciously or not, contemporary evangelical Christians who subscribe to belief in a young earth and a recent global Noahic flood to explain major geologic features of our earth are embracing virtually every one of Price’s views.

Price has been described as an armchair geologist. The extent of his formal science training consisted of a few elementary courses in the natural sciences, including mineralogy. Around 1900 he began to show concern about evolution after reading books on the subject. He decided the truth of evolution “all turned on its view of geology, and if that geology were true, the rest (evolution) would seem more or less reasonable.” Price, therefore, felt compelled to destroy the geological beliefs acquired until then by scientists and establish his own brand of geology in order to take his stand against evolution.

That task necessitated an unwavering commitment to a 6000 year old earth, a singular interpretation of time markers in the creation account as 24 hour days, and a global Noachian flood catastrophe only 4400 years ago. Price proposed his own version of the science of geology in several books between 1902 and 1924. They contradicted mainstream geological findings in many significant areas, including: (1) the meaning of stratigraphic overthrusts, (2) denial of the accepted interpretation of the geologic column, (3) denial of uniformitarianism in any form, and (4) the proposal that “comparatively few ‘kinds’ which were salvaged from the great castaclysm” were sufficient to repopulate the earth with the five million distinct species we observe today--amounting to evolution at break-neck speed!

Price’s intelligence and integrity was not questioned. His desire to expose the poverty of evolution lay behind his efforts, but his philosophical and moral goals took precedence over the quality of his science. Around 1920 evolution moved to the top of the fundamentalist agenda. He was variously cited as an “up to date scientist,” one of the “real scientists of the day,” and one of the “world’s leading geologists.” Alas, none of this was true, but people in the churches wanted to think they had a scientific champion defending their members against the onslaught of evolutionary thinking. He became a “scientific” celebrity in fundamentalist churches.

In the Scopes evolution trial of 1925, William Jennings Bryan cited Price as having “very good evidence” for earth’s young age, but Bryan later admitted that he personally believed in earth’s antiquity. Defense attorney Clarence Darrow dismissed Price as a “pretender and not a geologist at all.” However, Price’s young earth/flood geology captured the imagination of many people, leaving an indelible imprint on the minds of fundamentalist Christians striving to understand both the theology and the physical history of the Genesis creation account.